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Page last updated at 09:47 GMT, Monday, 24 November 2008

Kauto on course for King George

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Snoopy Loopy shines as Kauto Star stumbles

Trainer Paul Nicholls aims to get Kauto Star back to his best as he bids to recover from a tumble at Haydock to land a King George VI Chase hat-trick.

The dual King George champion unseated substitute rider Sam Thomas at the final fence when seeking a third Betfair Chase victory on Saturday.

Nicholls denied suggestions Kauto Star was past his prime despite the race going to the 33-1 shot Snoopy Loopy.

"We should be enjoying horses like this, not knocking them, he said.

It was part of an unusually disappointing weekend for Nicholls.

His well-fancied Officier De Reserve was forced out through a running rail in the Troytown Chase at Navan, and 2007 winner Mr Pointment was well beaten into second in the Becher Chase at Aintree.

Kauto Star came down and unseated Thomas after appearing to slip on landing after the final fence.

Spreck 1212
Asked what he thought of critics who suggested the horse was not the force of old, Nicholls said: "Absolute bull. I've never heard such rubbish."

He told BBC Sport: "As soon as people realise they can't win every time, that it's a horse race and that they are not machines, the better.

"To be fair to him, he would have won. It might not have been impressive but now it's down to me to get him back to his very best for Kempton."

Kauto Star, who has never finished out of the first two in completed races over fences, will be going for a third straight win in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Races: 19
Wins: 12 2nd: 5
Fell: 1 Unseated: 1
Bookmakers reacted to his defeat by pushing his odds out for the festive showpiece from about 4-5 to 6-4.

Thomas, who won the Haydock race on Kauto Star in 2007, was stepping in again for the horse's regular partner Ruby Walsh.

Walsh is likely to be out until early December after having his spleen removed following a fall at Cheltenham.

"It's always easy in hindsight to say we wish we'd have done this or done that," said the trainer.

"What everybody seems to forget is that Ruby knows the horse better than anybody.

"He's ridden him 16 times, Sam had only ridden him once before and he's still learning about the horse a little bit."

Kauto Star lost his Gold Cup crown to stablemate Denman in March and then suffered a defeat at Aintree.

But he scored an impressive victory on his seasonal return in the James Nicholson Chase at Down Royal.

Nicholls believes the eight-year-old now needs a decent break between races and he will rested until the Gold Cup after the King George.

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see also
Snoopy Loopy exploits Kauto fall
22 Nov 08 |  Horse Racing
Kauto eases to Down Royal victory
01 Nov 08 |  Horse Racing
Denman storms to Gold Cup victory
14 Mar 08 |  Horse Racing
Kauto battles to Haydock victory
24 Nov 07 |  Horse Racing
The Kauto Star story
26 Dec 07 |  Horse Racing

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